As a person who teaches leadership for a living, one of my specialist areas of interest is Mindful Leadership. When I first mention mindfulness, it’s really interesting to see the different reactions I get from the participants. I often see their faces change almost immediately and it’s usually one of three reactions;
• A knowing look or a nod of someone who has practiced or experienced mindfulness before
• A look of fear like ‘whoa I didn’t order any of that!’
• Or a confused look that says ‘you’ve lost me a little bit?’
Some people haven’t heard of mindfulness before, or aren’t really sure of the terminology, so after a brief explanation they then usually fall back into one on of the first two categories above. Most times it’s the first one because the majority of people have had experience with being mindful but didn’t really know what to call it.
But what is it that causes fear amongst even the strongest of our future leaders?
In my experience it is a misconception about what mindfulness actually is. Some people seem to think to be mindful you have to meditate in silence for 4 hours a day and wear long robes and join a monastery. In fact I even had one gentleman ask me once ‘Don’t you have to be a monk to be mindful?’
Mindfulness is just bringing more moment-to-moment awareness into your day. It’s focusing on the present moment rather than worrying about things that have happened in the past or being anxious about what may happen in the future. It’s also being fully immersed in one activity rather than trying to juggle multiple things at once (and usually not doing any of them particularly well!).
To learn how mindfulness can reduce stress in your workplace click here.
After our session on Mindful Leadership, most of the class can see the benefits and commit to being more mindful in their daily lives. But every now and then there is someone who still isn’t quite sure and may have even more misconceptions about what mindful is and isn’t. So I thought maybe we could clear these up while we are on the subject.
You have to be religious to practice mindfulness.
Although mindfulness is said to have it’s roots in a number of ancient religions, mindfulness is not tied to any religion nor do you have to be religious to practice. Mindfulness does not require any religious books, studies, talismans or beliefs; it is simply being present in the moment – whatever that looks like for you.
Mindfulness is trying to blank the mind.
The mind is built to think and we are constantly having any number of thoughts consciously or sub-consciously. The aim of mindfulness is not to blank the mind but to allow thoughts to come and go without getting caught up in them. One of the best analogies I have heard to describe this is that you are sitting on a platform watching trains pull into and out of the station. The aim is not to get onto any of the trains but just watch them come and go. If you get on a train, you never know where you are going to end up. It’s exactly the same for thoughts.
Mindfulness is a relaxation technique.
However, relaxation is often a by-product of mindfulness. When you are striving to relax, if something goes wrong (or just different to the way you planned it), you are going to get frustrated and you may try harder which won’t feel very relaxing at all. Too many times we are wishing for things to be different or judging what is happening in the present moment. By wishing for things to be different you’re saying you aren’t content or happy with the way things are. So just let go of your expectations and just be.
Mindfulness will make me weak.
On the contrary, by practicing mindfulness we are actually strengthening our minds so we have greater control over thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is like going to the gym for our minds. Every time you remind yourself that you are not being mindful, and to come back to the present moment, is like doing one bicep curl in the gym. The more times you catch your mind wandering and refocus, the stronger you get. This in turn can help us become more resilient against stress, anxiety and even depression.
Mindfulness is just another passing fad.
Mindfulness has been around for centuries and will be around for centuries to come. Although there has been a spike in interest in mindfulness, particularly in the last decade or so, it’s not something that has just risen up out of the shadows overnight. When people practice mindfulness they begin to experience that the concepts are incredibly simple, but not necessarily easy. However they soon find that the effort in harnessing the mind is worth the peace you experience when you are living more mindfully.
Want to try a quick and easy way to practice mindfulness using the S.T.O.P. technique click here.
I hope this clears up any misconceptions about mindfulness, but if it doesn’t please feel free to comment below. I’d also love to hear about any other experiences with these or any other misconceptions.